*This article is a work of nonfiction based on actual events recounted to me by a friend who witnessed them firsthand; used with permission
Having a good relationship with your in-laws will need patience and plenty of determination, but sometimes unexpected things can happen, and you're left thinking if it's worth trying to be a family at all.
How would you react if your daughter-in-law didn't do anything to connect with you but rather used all she saw in your home as a way to criticize and let her other relatives know about your decisions?
Would you still want to receive such visits, or would you avoid trying to have a positive relationship once you realized gossip was focused on you?
My friend Anna, who lives in Dallas, Texas, has been married to her husband, Daniel, for two years. They have one daughter together, and Anna is a stay-at-home mom.
The couple could afford to get a new home two months ago because Daniel earns enough, and they haven't had any disagreements due to money or bills.
"I'm thankful we could do that because I wanted to be close to our daughter and avoid having a babysitter around. It just felt so stressful thinking about going back to the office while wondering what was going on at home and if our little girl had everything she needed. Initially, I thought we would have to keep saving and be very careful about spending, but Daniel got promoted two times, and we don't need to be worried at all," Anna said.
Their relationship also got better once she was home because she made time to cook special dinners for her husband or asked her parents to look after their daughter so they could go out on a date. To them, the time they have together is a lot more valuable because they can also keep their family as a priority.
While her relationship with her husband is constantly improving, and they're also considering having another child in a year or two, Anna is still not getting along with her mother-in-law, Stella.
And it's not because Stella was opposed to their marriage. She was excited when she found out about their relationship, and she's also happy to be a grandmother. The issues between them are caused by the way Anna behaves after each visit.
"I used to be happy when Daniel and Anna came by. My husband and I love being grandparents, and any time we can have Lia, our granddaughter, for a sleepover, we just feel so pleased. But when it's Sunday, and we make a family dinner, and Anna comes round, there's this uneasy atmosphere since we all know what's going to happen after," Stella said.
As it turns out, Anna likes to tell her parents everything about Stella's home, what she tells her husband, how they spend their free time, and even how often they can afford to go out to try different restaurants. Stella explained she wasn't ok with that, but that didn't prevent Anna from sharing what she found out anyway and making their relationship more awkward each time.
And since she's realized there's no way to make her understand some things are just for them to know, Stella is doubting how often to invite her or if it's better to just visit the couple at their home instead of letting Anna comment on everything she sees and then sharing it with relatives and neighbors.
"She tells her parents everything we do; they laugh at us when we can't afford to go out for dinner. I don't know why she does it or how we can have a positive relationship if she goes on like this. She wasn't like this before she stayed home with Lia. Maybe she's just not busy enough and needs things to discuss. But I'm not comfortable with having so much gossip about me. And then I learned from a family friend that she actually laughed about us not having enough money for dinner at a fancy restaurant. That was unfair. She and Daniel had times when they weren't earning enough, and I'm close to retiring. This should not be happening in a family," Stella said.
She talked to Daniel and explained how she felt, but he's not sure how to avoid more visits without upsetting his wife. He did promise to organize barbecues at their place more often and invite his parents as a way to prevent visiting too often, but he's still sure his wife would want to go to his parents' place at least once a month.
Things are tense for now, but Anna doesn't seem to notice it. Instead, she thinks she's doing her mother-in-law a favor by telling other relatives and her parents what she sees in her house or about her money issues because they might be able to offer useful advice.
"I think it's better for the whole family to know. This way, they won't be expecting expensive presents from her and will be sure to contribute more when the holidays come or for their anniversaries," Anna said.
What do you think about this situation? Is Anna being fair in telling her parents what happens in Stella's home, or should she avoid doing that if it makes her mother-in-law uncomfortable? Should Anna apologize and work more on having a positive relationship with Stella instead of constantly making her feel upset by interfering or criticizing her house or how much money she and her husband have?